Booooooooooks!

It’s funny how much I think of myself as not actually reading that much (I do a lot of other stuff, too) but when I sit down to write them all down, it starts to seem like a pretty large number.

Night Heron by Adam Brookes: A solid spy/thriller set in China. Tense and exciting. I wasn’t sure where this one was going to end up. I’m always a little skeptical of books about China written by Westerners, so definitely take this one with a grain of salt.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig: I almost certainly read this one because it had the word "library" in the title. I’m wracking my brain trying to remember a thing about it. (I read a synopsis about it.) Oh yeah, I quite liked this story about a woman living different lives, in a multiverse kind of way. Clearly inspired by Borges’ "Library of Babel" story. I don’t know why it didn’t stick with me, even though I enjoyed reading it.

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson: My biggest problem with Stephenson’s books is that I lose too much sleep to them. I enjoyed this one more than any of his books since the Baroque Cycle. I’m sure that Stephenson’s info dump style of writing isn’t for everyone, but of you’ve enjoyed any of his other books, you’re almost certain to enjoy this one too.

The Dragon’s Path (Dagger and Coin, book 1) by Daniel Abraham: I set out to read the first of The Expanse series, but instead I somehow ended up reading this fantasy story instead. It’s got that epic fantasy flavor, but it’s more about trade and diplomacy than war and fighting monsters. I liked the sedate vibe of this book. Characters who are good at what they do or discovering what they’re good at, struggling to succeed against pretty steep odds.

By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño: Read this for a book club. This is a solid intro to Bolaño, because it isn’t many hundreds of pages long. The story of a Catholic priest’s slide into corruption leading up to Pinochet’s coup and after. Dark, dark stuff. Not a pleasant read, but a pretty eye-opening one.

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox: Another one that I have pretty hazy memories of… Ah, yes. An unhappy married couple have an unpleasant weekend together. The cat (who bites the wife) is the most vibrant character in this book. It’s not quite an anti-marriage novel, but I can’t imagine someone wanting to rush off and get married after reading it. Pretty mesmerizing stuff, even though it whooshed out of my head pretty quick after finishing it.

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West: West’s book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is one of my favorite books, so I was delighted and surprised when this short book turned up in my free library box. An emotionally fraught book about a solider returning from war and having no memory of his wife. Very odd.

The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman: The story of the first month of WWI. Powerful stuff about how (probably?) smart and capable people can think themselves into catastrophe when given enough power and opportunity. Things that stood out: I had forgotten (or never knew) just how close Germany came to winning the whole thing in the first month; the English were completely hapless and almost entirely useless in the first month of the war; people were terrified of Russia’s army, but when they got into combat they proved to be a paper tiger.

Drown by Junot Diaz: A collection of short stories. Once I looked up the titles of the stories, I remembered them. "Edison, New Jersey" and "Negocios" were the ones that stood out for me.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov: I read this when I was a kid and, after watching the recent tv series, I was curious to reread it. I had forgotten how much it feels like a set of short stories. I think it holds up pretty well though. The adaptation has a very different vibe. The book has an almost jovial quality to it that the adaptation is completely lacking. It was fun to reread it.

Some more books I read recently

It’s funny how I seem to read books faster than I can easily keep track of them here, but even while reading them seems to take longer than it should.

Lau Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way by Ursula Le Guin: Not so much a translation as a transliteration, I guess. Le Guin read several translations of the Tao Te Ching and used that to her craft her own version. Very poetic and worthwhile. Her forward (or afterward) to The Lathe of Heaven inspired me to read this.

Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, *Exit Strategy, Network Effect and Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells: Books 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the Murderbot series. Sometimes it’s lovely to finish a book in one sitting. I read all of these on individual weekend afternoons. The plots blur together a little bit in my mind, but, in general, a satisfying SF series that noodles around with questions of what it means to be human.

Shady Characters: the Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks by Keith Huston: A lot of fun historical tidbits in this book about the history of writing and printing. Granted, I’m the target audience for this book, but I think pretty much anyone would find something enjoyable in it. One of those books where I imagine you could read any chapter on its own.

All of the Marvels: a Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told by Douglas Wolk: This guy read all of Marvel’s comics (so you don’t have to) and wrote a book about the experience. Amazing! He has a lot of great insights about Marvel from reading decades of their comics as well as some useful thoughts on how to tackle incredibly large projects.

The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata: Journalism as novel. I don’t know much about the game of go, but I was entranced by the writing in this book and the story of a man who was playing his last go tournament after devoting his entire life to the game. A bit heart-breaking too.

The Last Emperor by John Scalzi: The last in the trilogy. This series is sort of epic, imperial science fiction-lite. I could easily imagine a version of this story that spans seven 700-page books. A good reminder that you can tell a pretty complex and interesting story with far fewer words.

Nocilla Experience by Agustín Fernández Mallo: An experimental novel. I don’t remember much about it. I may have lost some of the patience I had when I was younger for this type of book. Still, pretty short and I read it in an afternoon, which I always enjoy.

Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz: Stories of terrible people in 1980s NYC. Sort of funny, in a mean way.

King Bullet by Richard Kadrey: The last in the Sandman Slim series. I enjoyed this supernatural noir series, but I think Kadrey was definitely getting tired of writing books in this series. It’s short and there’s not much to it, but if you’ve gone on the whole ride, it’s a worthwhile wrap up. Funny, for a series that I think you can read piecemeal.

Catching up on books I’ve read

It’s been a while since I looked back on books I’ve read, but I had a little spare time, so…

The climate swerve: reflections on mind, hope, and survival by Robert Jay Lifton: A short book that ties the environmental movement to the anti-nuclear movement. Lifton makes the point that the anti-nuke movement is a useful model, because, like the climate crisis, it involves an existential crisis.

She who waits by Daniel Polansky: In this urban, noir, fantasy novel, "She Who Waits" is the goddess of death. The final in a trilogy of books, this one gets pretty dark. It’s a solid noir story though, if you’re into that kind of thing.

On fragile waves by E. Lily Yu: The story of an Afghani family illegally emigrating to Australia and applying for refugee status. Humanizing and powerfully tragic.

No gods, no monsters by Cadwell Turnbull: I don’t have strong memories about this one. The premise: how would people collectively react if monsters were proven to be real? Turns out, they wouldn’t do much. Some interesting ideas in here, but it didn’t really stick with me.

A deadly education and The last graduate by Naomi Novik: What if there was a school of magic, but it tried to kill its students? This is a fun spin on the Harry Potter thing.

The builders by Daniel Polansky: A group of bandits seek revenge. Only they’re all animals. Pretty great short little yarn.

The shortest history of China by Linda Jaivin: I realized I didn’t have a great sense of the grand arcs of Chinese history. This one filled in that gap. Extremely readable, but very light.

Gentlemen and players by Joanne Harris: A satisfying whodunnit. I mostly had no idea what was going to happen until the very, very end.

Everything we miss by Luke Pearson: I had completely forgotten about this one. It’s a comic about how things like depression can blind us to the world around us. Short, but powerful. (Unfortunately, for me, not very memorable.)

Just one damned thing after another by Jodi Taylor: The first in a long series of time travel novels. Pretty entertaining, but I feel like I got what I needed out of the first one. Probably won’t read more of them.

Real tigers by Mick Herron: A group of washed out British spies. This one is #3 in the series, I think? Pretty great. The books in these series are pretty interchangeable. If you like one, you’ll probably like the others.

Hero of two worlds: the Marquis de Lafayette and the Age of Revolution by Mike Duncan: The story of how Lafayette played a crucial role in both the American and French revolutions. Fascinating stuff!

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline: I could see Cline struggling to address the problems and issues raised by the first book. He somewhat succeeded in exploring the problems with having absolute power. Interesting, but extremely light.

Living in data: a citizen’s guide to a better information future by Jer Thorp: A poetical meditation on the data milieu we’re all swimming through. Extremely worthwhile.

The dangers of smoking in bed by Mariana Enríquez: A powerful set of short stories. Very much in the vein of magical realism a la Gabriel García Márquez.

Everything now: lessons from the city-state of Los Angeles by Rosecrans Baldwin: A love letter to LA. I’d never want to move to LA, but this book helped me understand why people want to.

Subcutanean 36619 by Aaron A. Reed: An interesting experiment in procedurally generated novel writing. A story about parallel universes. If you order a copy from the author, it will be a little bit different from other copies.

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams: I loved the Memory, Sorry, and Thorn trilogy. This is a follow up trilogy. A meditation on middle age, legacy, and the folly of youth. I’ll definitely read the rest.

Continuous discovery habits: discover products that create customer value and business value by Teresa Torres: A book I read for work. Some useful insights here.

Children of the fang and other genealogies by John Langan: Horror short stories. Some pretty chilling stuff.

The Rift by Nina Allan: A girl’s older sister disappears without a trace and then apparently reappears decades later. Powerful stuff.

Into the wild by Erin Hunter: The first of the Warriors series. I read this because my kid is super into this series and I wanted to see what it was all about. I can see why these are appealing and we had a great chat about it, after.

The invisible life of Addie Larue by VE Schwab: A woman is cursed by the devil to live forever and never be remembered. Compelling reading. I enjoyed it a lot.

All systems red by Martha Wells: The first of the Murderbot stories. I see why people have been raving about these books.

LaserWriter II by Tamara Shopsin: The story of an Apple repair shop in NYC in the 90s. Extremely charming. Captures a moment in time that’s long gone.

The lathe of heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin: A psychiatrist hypnotizes a man into altering reality. The protagonist is a true Taoist hero. Mesmerizing and deeply weird.

The Rosewater insurrection by Tade Thompson: Science fiction centered in Nigeria instead of, as per usual, the United States. This is a sequel in the Wormwood trilogy.

House of chains by Steven Erikson: Book 4 in the Malayan series. This was a reread. The best I’ve read so far in epic fantasy.

Books I liked in 2021

The Lido by Libby Page: A sweet and charming story about a very old woman and a very young woman who team up to save their local community pool. (“Lido” is an English word for swimming pool, I gather.)

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd: A love letter to a Scottish mountain range called the Cairngorms. A masterpiece of nature writing and just writing in general. Lovely.

The King Must Die by Mary Renault: A retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur. Vivid and creative. Makes sense of some of the nonsense in that story, while still keeping that mythic resonance that has kept that story alive for so long.

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer: Environmental noir, I guess. Sparse and occasionally surreal, it very much captures the alienation created by all the devices and gadgets we surround ourselves with.

The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South by Kenneth Stampp: Round and round we go. Slavery in this country was worse than you can imagine. But you don’t need to take my word for it. This exhaustive (and exhausting) historical work from the 1960s punctures and deflates all of the positive mythologizing about the Ante-Bellum South. To my mind, it’s better to stare unflinching into this historical mire than to pretend it wasn’t really as bad as it was.

Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson: I read a lot of serious books this year. Sometimes a book comes along that’s like a skeleton key for making sense of our current moment. This is one of those books. Extremely worthwhile. (And led to a really great conversation in my book club.)

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson: A science fiction novel that dares to imagine what it would take to start restoring our planet instead of continuing to despoil it. There is some exceptionally clear and well-written science writing in here. Not an easy feat!

The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 by Stephen Kern: The years from 1880-1918 were a baffling and confusing time when longstanding conceptions of things like time, space, speed, history, and many other things were flipped on their heads. I’ve got a feeling we’re living through a similarly conceptually disruptive time.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard: There’s not much to admire about Ancient Rome, but there’s a lot to learn from, especially about how systems of power persist regardless of what personality is stuck at the top of the heap.

One for the Books by Joe Queenan: A book by a reader about reading. This guy’s a real kindred spirit.

The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman: A kids book about a magical train. I cried. And then my kid cried. So sweet and sad.

Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry Prizant: Even now, autism is poorly understand. To my mind, autism is not something to be fixed. If there’s any problem, it’s in people’s unwillingness to tolerate difference. If you meet people where they are, the world opens up in a delightful way.

The Wild Birds by Emily Strelow (written by a college friend of mine): There’s a marvelous focus on nature in this novel that spans a hundred years or so. An exquisite eye for detail and sheer joy about nature come through so vividly in the writing here.

The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World (1490-1530) by Patrick Wyman: A historical work about a period of time that marked a stark transition to a new way of thinking about the world. Also provides an answer to the question: how did the historical and geographical backwater that was Europe become the dominant force in the world for a few hundred years?

Hero of Two Worlds: the Marquis de Lafayette and the Age of Revolution by Mike Duncan: Read it for Lafayette’s strong moral clarity. Here’s a guy who knew what was right and wasn’t afraid to sacrifice everything for it. A real mensch.

Living in Data: A Citizen’s Guide to a Better Information Future by Jer Thorp: A lovely little book that breathes life and poetry into “data”. I found it useful for thinking about the systems of data we all swim within these days.

Everything Now: Lessons from the City-State of Los Angeles by Rosecrans Baldwin: A love letter to the city of LA. A beautiful and lovely piece of writing.

Remembering the last books I read (part 4)

The Immeasurable Corpse of Nature by Christopher Slatsky: A book of horror short stories. They do the job and do it well.

Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer: Some pretty good stories by some pretty great writers. I do think it’s tough for people to imagine better futures these days. I definitely felt a bit of strain in these stories.

Tools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich: Food for thought. A solid critique of the technosocial systems we find ourselves in. The path forward, not so clear.

Quietus by Tristan Palmgren: What if aliens arrived, but it was medieval Europe? This book was delightfully weird.

The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman: My kid and I both cried while reading this.

Ballistic Kiss by Richard Kadrey: Book 11 (?) in the Sandman Slim series. These books are so fun. Hard to believe they’re almost done. Even harder to believe they haven’t made tv or movies out of this yet.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland: Time travel! A fun read. I could definitely tell which was Galland and which Stephenson, though. She brought some warmth, which isn’t always there.

Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry M. Prizant: Along with Neurotribes, I’d recommend this to anyone who wants deeper insight into this thing we call autism. Bottom line: you need to meet people where they are, autism or no.

The Wild Birds by Emily Strelow: A novel written by a college chum of mine. Not what I was expecting! Some truly exceptional nature writing in this one. Really tops. Led to a great book club conversation.

Remembering the last books I read (part 3)

False Hearts by Laura Lam: A strange sci-fi thriller about separated conjoined twins who grew up in a cult. I wanted it to be weirder, haha.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard: The point that stuck with me is that the historical gossip, in essence, about the Roman emperors distracts from history about empire itself. Also, that there really isn’t much to admire about ancient and inperial Rome, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.

Death or Glory by Rick Remender: A comic that’s got some real Mad Max vibes. The death count is sky high in this one, but the hero’s got some charm.

One for the Books by Joe Queenan: A book about reading by a guy who reads more than I do. I got some great recommendations from this one. Also, I appreciated the time I spent with this fellow reader.

The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World by Patrick Wyman: The story of how a set of interrelated systems and innovations led to Europe’s domination of the world. An excellent work of history.

Coda by René Belletto: A strange little novel about a perpetual motion machine, a small mystery, and the end of time. I dug it.

Bubble by Jordan Morris: I didn’t realize this was a comic when I put a hold on it at the library. Science fantasy, post-apocalypse, plus Uber-as-monster-slaying. Light but fun.

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler: So funny. Really nails the vacuousness of social media. I didn’t throw my phone into the sea after reading it, but it’s not an unreasonable impulse.

Remembering the last books I read (part 2)

(The last one got too long so I’m continuing it here.)

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch: What if the version of you from a parallel reality is kind of a jerk? What if they all are? A thriller where the protagonist’s biggest problem is himself. A good airplane book (even though I didn’t read it on an airplane).

Imaro by Charles R. Saunders: An African Conan-style sword-and-sorcery story. Pretty raw and visceral. I can easily imagine an alternate timeline where these stories were immensely popular.

The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 by Stephen Kern: A book that explores the way that 1880-1918 was a period of time that shattered the way people thought about things like time, distance, speed, history, tradition, and many other things. Really fascinating stuff. There are a lot of tracks to follow out of this one.

Broken Souls by Stephen Blackmoore: Turns out I’ve been reading a lot of books by guys named Steve. This is a supernatural noir story about a guy who occasionally has good intentions but whose efforts generally cause bad repercussions to everyone around him. A quick, fun read. Also, a sequel of a book I didn’t read, which didn’t end up mattering much.

Questland by Carrie Vaughan: Shades of Ready Player One, but this time it’s a deadly amusement park. An extremely light, quick read.

Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman: This collector of obscure historical memorabilia gets embroiled in a mystery surrounding a Nazi entymologist. There’s a boxer character in this book that’s a pure delight.

Rabbits by Terry Miles: The only alternate reality game (ARG) novel I’ve read that really gets at how thin the line is between these games and unhinged conspiratorial thinking. Quite entertaining. Delightfully weird. Set in Seattle, which I enjoyed.

Meeting the Other Crowd: Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland by Edmund Lenihan: Stories transcribed from around Ireland. Strange and delightful.

Everyday Chaos: Technology, Complexity, and How We’re Thriving in a New World of Possibility by David Weinberger: I found this book interesting, but I remember almost nothing from it. I expect it was due back at the library and I read it too quickly.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson: The subtitle says it all. It’s pretty funny, but also has some useful thoughts on living with mental illness.

Family Ties by Clarice Lispector: I think I read this but I have absolutely no memory of what it’s about. Did I read it? I don’t know why my past self would’ve written it down if I hadn’t. … Ah, it’s a book of short stories. I remember it now. I think I liked them.

The Memory Theater by Karin Tidbeck: A novel about the terror and boredom of timeless immortality. Also, about the power of stories. An extremely odd book that I found fascinating.

The Lost Direction by Timothy S. Boucher: (A friend of mine.) I think Tim is calling this book’s genre “lorecore”. A secret history of an ancient, lost civilization. Deeply charming. If like Tolkien (or other) fictional lore, you’d probably enjoy this one.